Selecting the Right Outdoor Location

Lets face it, some outdoor portraits are the absolutely beautiful and some suck!  While the skill of the photographer has a great deal to do with this, so the does the skill of the photographer at selecting the right location for the right portraits.  You have to know how to select a location-based on the way you shoot outdoors and the look you are trying to achieve.  Many photographers simply go to the local park whenever it is the client wants to meet them there.  They think with all the skills they have they will be able to “shoot on the fly” and come up with something the client will buy.  No one is that good!  Without planning, the knowledge of photography and the right location selection, you will create crap that has to be photoshopped to look like something.  This isn’t a profitable business system! Photography is a business and for it to be a business it has to generate a profit and pay you for every minute you work.  Over shooting and editing down and editing crap into photography isn`t a profit business model, it is a way to give up all your free time and make less than you would a bag person at the local grocery store.

There are general requirements for the selection of a location,  like large trees, buildings or obstructions to provide shade from the direct rays of the sun.  Older parks and natural water areas like rivers often are perfect and can provide areas to work in throughout the day.  You also want to find a location that offers many types of backgrounds or areas to work in.  In every location I use I look for areas of water, tall grass to lay in, brick, rock or wood structures or other architectural elements, as well a trees and greenery for more traditional outdoor portraits.  Clients want variety and go to the trouble of dealing with the heat or cold, the wind, the bugs, the dirt and the travel they want to have a variety of photographic background that have depth and realism.  Lets face it, the way some photographers shoot outdoors, all the backgrounds, in all the portraits, are a green pattern that could have been easily duplicated in the studio.

You select the location you use based on two main factors, the time of day you are shooting and your shooting style.  The time of day is very important because many location work well in the morning when the Sun in the east, but have no where to shoot in the afternoon, when the sun is in the west, while some locations are the opposite.  I have used many locations like this, where there were huge trees, buildings or obstructions on one side of the location, which provided shaded areas during one time of the day, but it was impossible to get to the other side of the obstruction to have shaded areas the other part of the day.  You have to know these things when scheduling your appointments!

The second consideration is the way in which you shoot outdoors.  I personally look for areas that have very tall trees or obstructions to provide large areas of shade since I photograph at all times of the day.  However, I also want open area without dense foliage, because I create my main light source for each subject by using feathered, reflected sunlight.  This gives me complete control over my lighting and color temperature outdoors, just like I have in the studio.  Some photographers use just natural light.  If you shoot this way and go to locations very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon, the need for such tall tree isn`t needed or wanted.  The light is so soft too many obstructions reduce the number of natural light areas you have to choose from.  If you use flash outdoors it really doesn`t matter, since you let the flash blow out all the natural light anyways and then try and Photoshop style into your outdoor photography.  If you use flash,  I suggest you buy some of my books or the outdoor DVD and learn to create portraits with beautiful light and scenes!

As important as the location you select is for the right lighting,  is the overall look of the area and how it coordinates with the look of the images your client is wanting and the clothing they were.  A general park scene is great for casual clothing, but it looks odd when you see a girl in an elegant gown in a scene that she would never be in an elegant gown in.  You don`t go for a walk along the river in high heels and a short dress!

While casual clothing should be paired or coordinated with casual less formal locations, elegant clothing should be coordinated with more upscale locations.  In elegant clothing a downtown area with elegant buildings and architectural elements would be better suited, than a park or natural scene. The idea is to create a portrait that visually makes sense, where everything within the frame coordinates with everything else within the frame.

Ultimately, you will have to adapt what you offer to the locations that are feasible to use and in some areas the few choices you have.  But this is where creativity pays off.  When illustrating one of my books,  I want to do photographs from a terrace or rooftop garden to get a nighttime city view in the background.  I was envisioning San Francisco or New York, however I live in Fresno, Ca. which has a downtown area that has about six tall building in it and no elegant living spaces anywhere downtown.  Knowing I had to make it work, I contact the one and only nice hotel downtown that was in a multi-story building.  I used their patio area after closing time to create the images I needed.  You find that in selecting a location outside of the studio, you are only limited by your photography skill and imagination!

 

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on March 8, 2011.

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